By Ernie Palladino
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In one move, Brian Cashman minimized all the questions about Aaron Boone’s lack of experience.
That doesn’t matter now. By acquiring Giancarlo Stanton, Cashman effectively turned his rookie skipper into a push-button manager. Or as close as it gets in this era of analytics and soft-love player communication, anyway.
Boone will still have to deal with certain lineup and rotation decisions. But for the most part, he now takes over a team that is World Series ready thanks to the generosity of its old shortstop, Derek Jeter. The funneling north of the NL MVP for Starlin Castro and a couple of low-level prospects by the Marlins’ new co-owner desperate to free up dough for his debt-ridden franchise may only the beginning of a talent pipeline reminiscent of the one that brought Roger Maris and others from the Kansas City Athletics in the early 1960s.
But regardless of who comes in the future, getting Stanton and his 59 homers is the move that should set up the Yanks to storm the American League.
Boone need only to run out his lineup every day and watch the balls fly.
Analytics? Put the binders aside. The only numbers Boone needs to heed now are 59, 52, 33, 25, and 21. Those were the 2017 home run totals for Stanton, Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Didi Gregorius, and Brett Gardner. And they don’t even take in the numbers Greg Bird is expected to produce provided his repaired ankle and late-season progress continue on their current paths.
What pitcher in his right mind wants to face a lineup that reads Gardner, Judge, Sanchez, Stanton, Bird, Gregorius? There’s not a weak spot until it gets to the bottom three of Chase Headley, and Gleyber Torres, the super-rookie expected to replace Castro at second, and whoever takes Jacoby Ellsbury’s place if Cashman succeeds in unloading him during the Winter Meetings this week.
Stanton and Judge alone have gotten people talking about a new addition of the “M&M Boys” — Mantle and Maris — but the top of the 2018 lineup would spell out an entire acronym if not for want of a vowel or two.
As with anything, there are concerns. The 28-year-old Stanton has endured several trips to the disabled list in his career. He missed 88 games in 2015 from swinging too hard at a pitch, and lost the last 17 games of 2014 when he took a pitch in the face. Other lengthy absences happened in 2011, ’12, and ’13.
But Stanton did play in all but three games last year. If his health holds, Boone’s biggest problem may involve when to rotate him between the outfield and DH.
Then there’s the strikeouts. He finished among the top 10 in three of his eight seasons. Last year’s 163 ranked seventh. And with Judge’s league-leading 208, that scares the dickens out of some folks.
It shouldn’t. Homers and strikeouts are the name of the game now. With everybody upper-cutting for the long ball, the “Golden Sombrero” has gone from shameful to merely an occupational hazard. For Boone’s purposes, it’s better to strike out than have a DP take his team out of a possible three-run shot.
Forget about hitting and running. No need to steal, not that that was a big part of the Yanks’ offensive philosophy to begin with. But station-to-station ball has never looked so good in the Bronx.
On the business end, picking up the remaining 10 years, $295 million will make it hard, but not impossible, to stay under baseball’s $197 million luxury tax threshold. No matter. Summoning the ghosts of Babe Ruth’s “Murderer’s Row” and the “M&M Boys” easily trumped any financial considerations.
In fact, it became a fine investment not only for the offense, but also for a rookie manager who doesn’t need a mountain of pre-game moves to clutter up his thinking.
For Boone, it at least starts with pushing buttons. Set that monstrous top six, fiddle with the bottom three, run them out there, and watch them destroy the ballpark.
Pitching? That’s a discussion for another day.
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